Telescopes I've Seen - Leiden

Sterrewacht, Leiden, The Netherlands

Old observatory, Leiden

This building on the canal ring (Singel) defining the boundaries of old Leiden positively oozes with history, dating to 1861. This is still a newcomer to astronomy at Leiden University, which can be traced to 1633 (and leaving us to wonder what would have happened if Galileo had accepted that faculty position...) So, when I took a postdoc at Leiden in 1985, were there astronomers here? No, not at all. The Sterrewacht offices had moved to a Bauhaus-style box on the outskirts of town - necessary for the room, but somehow not tha same. And this is before the University constructed the new offices, described by one colleague as the ugliest building in Europe. The domes still contain some modest instruments used for student training. The 19th-century instrumentation included a meridian circle and 25-cm refractor, joined later by a 34-cm photographic telescope which saw long servivce with the Carte du Ciel project. Some of the choices for projects to be undertaken in a student's practicum include stellar astrometry from the old Sterrewacht, long-term studies of masers from Dwingeloo, and variable-star work at ESO. Enthusiasm for the first, sometimes seen as the least interruption of a student's life, often fades when it becomes clear just how many tries it will take to get enough clear, dark hours in Leiden. The Sterrewacht has hosted a remarkable amount of groundbreaking research - in this century alone the professors here have included Oort, van de Hulst, de Sitter, and Hertzsprung. This was one of the first places that astronomy "with a multispectral character" (to quote from a job announcement I once answered) could flourish. The Leiden astronomical community had ties not only to ESO and the Dutch radio observatories at Dwingeloo and Westerbork, but to the international optical observatory at La Palma plus UKIRT for infrared and the JCMT for submillimeter observations, partnership in the IRAS mission, and maintained an active X-ray astronomy group, plus laboratory astrophysics particularly focused on interstellar dust grains.

A bonus for you linguists out there - the careful observer will note that the Dutch word for "observatory" is sterrenwacht. So what happened to that "n"? The Leiden Observatory is one of a couple which took their names so long ago that the spelling has changed since then. It's worn as a badge of honor.

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